March 17, 2007

Speculations on the Instruments of Creativity — From The Future [3:27 pm]

Well, tomorrow’s NYTimes, anyway — Is the Key to Creativity in Your Pillbox, or in Your PC?

LOVERS do it. Athletes, too. And even students, cramming for exams. They all take pills to enhance their performance.

To some degree, many a worker involved in creative activity does, too, but with cups of strong coffee from the corner Starbucks or the employee snack room. “Caffeine is now a gateway drug” that leads to a universe of ingestible mental enhancers, says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a futurist and science historian in Menlo Park, Calif. “I foresee a day when the office medicine chest holds much more than aspirin.”

[...] “There’s a strong fantasy element in the idea of a pill that can make people smarter,” says Mitchell Kapor, a pioneer in information technology. (He helped create what was once the world’s most popular spreadsheet software, Lotus 1-2-3.) Ultimately, such pills might face digital rivals if current trends in computer science continue. Engineers are busy designing better search engines and “virtual worlds” online where we can test ideas and share experiences with others in ways perhaps not possible today. [...]

[...] Which brings us to the big idea staring us in the face. By now it is clear that Big Pharma and Big Computing are running an unspoken race, to decide which technology — the electronic or the biochemical — can first deliver the magic elixir that gives humans vastly improved creative powers. Might we be heading, however fitfully, toward a new industrial age when Microsoft buys Merck to better compete with Google?

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The Boston Globe Calls ‘Em Like It Sees ‘Em [3:02 pm]

Digital millennium shakedown - pdf

COMPANIES THAT own the rights to recorded music or video are understandably anxious to make money from the use of their products on the Internet. But they are going too far in two cases, and they ought to temper their concern for profit with an awareness that not everyone who runs a website can afford to pay what the companies would like to charge.

[...] The Internet, as it evolves, continues to disrupt old business models. But the public interest is best served by innovation, not lawsuits or excessive fees

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In Case You Didn’t Know [11:53 am]

Everyone’s watching:

Lots of folks are upset about this, but it’s hard to see why anyone’s surprised. This is already a fundamental piece of running any sort of retail or journalism site, and with the transition of the advertising model toward lead generation, it’s going to be really hard to avoid.

The better question is what can be done about it. Those who are planning to sue are probably going to find some odd clauses in their Terms of Service that will surprise them. The US Congress has been far more sympathetic to the desires of business than those of anyone else — and we’ve had a decade of rhetoric that has already laid the groundwork for the claim that privacy is something that can, and is, negotiated away on a regular basis.

For example, is this service, Log In Your Measurements, and the Clothes May Fit, a prima facie privacy violation? (What about this? If the Mirror Could Talk (It Can)) If not, when does it become one? When the name is sold to Lucky magazine? Vogue? Weight Watchers? How to distinguish between convenience and invasion of privacy?

How about screening the data on the basis of measurements to add someone to a mailing list for “Plus Size” garments? How about when it’s sold to a health care plan screening for applicants who might be in poor health (over- or under-weight)? Selling to a tobacco company to promote cigarettes as weight loss? Where is the bright line?

Solving this is going to depend on redefining what privacy really is; right now, there isn’t even a language for it — certainly nothing that can be employed in a public policy discussion of the topic.

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